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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.

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January: Validation
January 2019

From my press row seat in Alexandra Palace, I had a perfect view of American Shane Van Boening’s Mosconi Cup-clinching 1-9 combination. He shot it directly in my line of vision. He didn’t slam it. He rolled it and it took the 9 an excruciatingly long time to settle into the corner pocket. But once it did, a feeling of incredible pride and satisfaction came over me.

It’s not what you think. Sure, I was proud that Team USA had proven the annoyingly (albeit, justifiably) cocky European pool fans wrong about its chances of winning the Mosconi Cup after eight years of sometimes-embarrassing failure. And I found satisfaction in Van Boening exorcising his own Mosconi demons by sinking the case 9, as he had in 2009, the last time Team USA won.

But even more, I was proud and satisfied for the people who had the biggest stake in turning around Team USA’s fortunes and taking pool’s biggest showcase to yet another level — the players, the coaches and the event’s producers.

The wild success of the 2018 Mosconi Cup — the 25th edition produced by Barry Hearn and his Matchroom Multi Sport charges — didn’t happen by accident. It was a carefully plotted 12-month journey that took a dreamer’s vision and extraordinary commitment. And the result was complete validation of the process and the effort. That is what made the moment so special.

I was happy for Johan Ruysink. Despite his incredible credentials as a coach and instructor, he did not receive the warmest of welcomes last year when he was announced as Team USA captain. He faced a ton of challenges. He was a foreigner. The players didn’t really know him and, therefore, did not fully trust him. The cultural differences between players in the U.S. and the players he was used to coaching in Europe made his “process” (pronounced, “pro-ses”) a tough sell.

But he took the job because he is confident and proud, and because Matchroom begged him to take the position. The Mosconi Cup is a single event in the portfolio of an event producer, and despite its growing following, the product itself was at risk of becoming boring. The U.S. ship desperately needed to get righted.

Ruysink’s first year, 2017, was a disaster. The players didn’t truly buy in and it showed. Ruysink was leaning toward turning down another chance if asked. Thankfully, he didn’t. He not only accepted, he contacted former U.S. Mosconi star Jeremy Jones, one of the game’s most respected and well-liked players, to join him in getting American players to understand his program. The players were slow to embrace the process, but Ruysink never wavered. Anyone who still doubts his ability to make players better and to turn underdogs into favorites is simply in denial.

Which is why I was also so happy for the players. It took some doing but, in the end, they got it. They understood. And they responded. To a man, they will tell you today that they are better players than they were in early 2018 — even Van Boening. And they will tell you that there is, indeed, a difference between five players and a “team.” To their credit, they sacrificed a lot to compete in this year’s Mosconi Cup. They committed to six months of Mosconi Cup focus. They spent weeks in “boot camps.” They spent weeks traveling the globe in the name of “training” and “seasoning.” They agreed to nearly two weeks of virtual seclusion leading up to and during the Cup. And, in the process, they became a band of brothers. Anyone who has attended a Mosconi Cup (and I’ve attended 19) would have immediately seen the difference in London. Trust me, this was the best U.S. Mosconi Cup “team” ever.

That is what was required to make 2018 the best Mosconi Cup ever — which it most certainly was. And that is why I was probably happiest for the Matchroom crew.

I’ve worked with Barry Hearn’s team for more than 20 years, and few people know how much thought and time and effort they put into this event. And 2018 was off the charts. Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer took the turnaround of Team USA and the setting of a new bar for the Mosconi Cup as a personal challenge. It was an ambitious plan, one that would cost a ton of money and demand a ton of time. Matchroom provided U.S. captain Ruysink with every tool for which he asked. They helped make boot camps happen. They put together the U.S.-England Mosconi warmup. In an effort to give Team USA every chance to succeed, Matchroom provided side-by-side apartments in London for nearly two weeks, away from the host hotel and any distractions. They stocked the refrigerators and provided a full-time driver. They built a proper practice room in Alexandra Palace, replete with couches, tables and fully stocked refrigerators. They gave Team USA, as Billy Thorpe called it, “the Gucci treatment.”

More involvement meant higher expenses, but Matchroom never flinched. And the effort paid off. Team USA responded in the arena in a way few people saw coming.

Which brings me to the arena and the atmosphere. I was happy for the fans that attended and for the fans that tuned in around the world because they got to witness the single best pool event in many decades. From the flashy new set to the pyrotechnics to the hired DJ that kept 2,500 fans chanting and singing and dancing through every session and every match, the 2018 Mosconi Cup was a sports event that could transcend its fan base. It was an event that had everyone talking about it. And that’s what pool needs.

In the end, I was proud and satisfied because the result validated all of the effort and commitment so many people put into it.